Like all TVonics PVRs, the DTR-Z500HD is remarkably small, measuring just 185 by 70 by 220mm. As a consequence, the ports on the rear are rather congested. In addition to Scart, there are three HDMI ports (one out and two in), enabling the Z500HD to function as an HDMI switcher, which is useful if you're running out of inputs on either your TV or AV receiver.
The HDMI ports are joined by an optical digital audio output, USB, aerial loop-through and Ethernet LAN ports. The latter is dormant, so don't rush to stick anything in it. The front-panel sports a secondary USB input. Sadly, this is for viewing JPEG and BMP photos only, and it won't play back music or video files, no matter how pleasantly you talk to it.
Set-up is a cinch. The PVR rattles through its channel-search routine at a rate of knots, before requesting confirmation of your TV area. Then it's good to go. All its menus are similarly responsive.
As a Freeview HD recorder, it offers free high-definition content from the BBC, ITV and Channel 4. These sit midway through the channel listings, but can be made more accessible by assigning them as favourites.
The DTR-Z500HD scores well from an operational point of view. Navigation is aided by understandable, intuitive menus. At a glance, you can tell what's ready to watch in the library and what's scheduled to record. Such ease of use is important if you're new to PVRs.
The electronic programme guide complies with the standard Freeview format, stretching forward eight days, and covering nine channels at a glance. In time-honoured tradition, coloured keys jump you back and forwards 24 hours within the listing.
This iteration of TVonics' user interface comes with plenty of polish. There's a choice of colour schemes, set off by arty shadows and gradients. We rather liked the sky-blue version.
This twin-tuner PVR will record two channels simultaneously, while you eyeball anything recorded in its library. TV shows can be set to record live or via the EPG. If you select a standard-definition programme and there's a high-definition alternative available, the system prompts you to record that instead. This is always worth doing, as the large, 500GB hard drive is more than big enough to cope with impulsive hi-def hoarding. There's enough room to store around 70 hours of HD content, or 250 hours of SD material.
You can also watch a show as it records, as well as series link entire seasons at the press of the blue button. Recordings can be made to automatically delete themselves, filtered by 'oldest' or 'oldest played'. For peace of mind, though, this feature is probably best left off.
Other niceties include a picture-in-picture mode, although this doesn't function for HD channels or when you're recording two channels at the same time, and live TV pause. The size of the DTR-Z500HD's buffer is variable -- between one, two and four hours.
If you've yet to break the archiving habit, it's easy to record your shows onto tapes or discs. A playlist function allows you to compile a list of recordings which then play out automatically via Scart.
The recorded image quality is fine, although there are some caveats. While HD channels are sharp and convincing, we were aware of interlacing problems with SD content. Sporadically, our recordings exhibited combing artefacts, which were quite pronounced and distracting. This indicates inadequacies within the DTR-Z500HD's de-interlacer, and, once spotted, can be rather annoying.
Given how small the DTR-Z500HD's chassis is, it's remarkable just how quiet it is when running. While there's a fan, it never accelerates to the point of annoyance. During recordings, there's only the sound of a gentle tapping from the hard drive. The unit itself runs pleasingly cool.
The TVonics DTR-Z500HD is a great little Freeview HD PVR. If you're migrating from analogue to digital TV, it's a solid choice, but we also recommend it as a PVR upgrade, should you need extra recording capacity.
Edited by Charles Kloet